It’s been a busy post-release 24 hours for Dragon Age: Origins. There’s a 1.01 patch which apparently smooths out some potentially game-stopping difficulty-spikes. The free Dragon Age toolset v1 (full-blown construction kit and cutscene animator for modders) has been released. There’s even a wiki or two. Doubtless mod lists will start to appear in the coming week.
It’s been a little busy for me too. I’ve sunk about eight hours into the game, and completed the first four main acts (which when playing as a human is: your home castle; at the ruins of Ostagar; into the wilds; return and initiation) — and they’re all basically one big drawn-out tutorial.
What’s I liked (so far):
* The voice-acting is excellent and consistent, and thankfully there’s no mixing of British and American accents. It’s all British accents, as far as I can tell, so far. The sound design is also solid.
* The story is deep, believable, and well-constructed. The characters are all distinctive and subtly conveyed.
* Cut-scene facial animations and lip-syncing are generally believable enough. The dialogue that’s delivered isn’t too hammy.
* It’s fun, and occasionally has a decent sense of humour.
* It has a giant pet war-dog (called Fluffweed in my copy).
* The lore and back-stories are outstanding.
* The frame-rate is excellent, and the game plays smoothly.
* There are no huge roadblocks in terms of learning the initial controls
* A workmanlike and practical user-interface
What’s disappointing (so far):
* There is no feeling of awe at the beauty of a finely-crafted world environment operating around you in real-time, as there is with Morrowind/Oblivion. Instead you’re strolling through a succession of generic stage-sets (castle, ruin, marsh) as part of a very well-acted stage play, rather than being a part of a living world. Plot and dialogue seems to be everything in DA.
* So far, “Easy” mode seems far too easy — although one review did mention something about a huge difficulty-spike about nine hours into the game, so I’ll stick with it for now.
* It has camera controls that are clunky and often distracting. It looks best in old-school isometric mode, but then characters are difficult to distinguish and enemies can’t be seen even if they’re in plain sight just fifty yards ahead.
* In its early stages DA is obviously linear and “on rails”, much like Mass Effect was. Perhaps there are a few larger environments later.
* It’s an RPG — and yet it feels as though there’s very little scope to actually develop a distinctive role-play character in terms of actions and manner as well as looks. Just as with Mass Effect, you feel you’re getting much the same end results from making an angry/flippant or a polite response. It feels like an ersatz RPG, rather than the real thing.
* Meaningful fantasy requires a real sense of ‘the fantastic’ and ‘the uncanny’. I really haven’t seen any of that so far. One potentially eerie early key encounter with a chest of ancient documents, and a witch and her daughter, was presented in a laughably plain manner.
* It all feels like one more rip-off of The Lord of the Rings, albeit one where some fine writers have managed to juggle some freshness into a stale scenario. Several times I found myself thinking that only the lack of hobbits would be preventing the Tolkien estate from suing Bioware.
* The graphics have generally been a big disappointment, even at 1920 x 1200 with all eye-candy at maximum and the Nvidia Control Panel forcing 16x anti-aliasing. There are a few nice moments, but it’s not a patch on something like The Witcher: Extended on the PC. Compare “the wilds” marshland in DA to a very similar environment in The Witcher, for instance. There’s just no comparison in terms of quality…
The marshy wilds in Dragon Age.
The marshland in The Witcher.
Interior in Dragon Age.
Interior in The Witcher.